Sunday, February 27, 2011

Frigid Fish Porn

Long story short ... we spent Tuesday night at Brenda's Motel in anticipation of a long Wednesday on the Salmon River. If you haven't stayed at Brenda's, you really should. The place is emblematic and essential to one's understanding of the issues surrounding the watershed. Keep your expectations low, book a room, and bring some nine or ten percent Ommegang.

The alarm sounded at 4:30 a.m. We were rigged, wrapped in our swaddling clothes, and bank side by 6:00 a.m. The temperature was seven degrees below zero. As one might expect, the fishing was slow until the sun rose in the sky. Right around noon, the air and water warmed just enough to trigger the bite.

We nymphed up all the fish pictured below, but I did have a tug on an Orange Heron. Sadly, I had gone cold dumb, and my digits weren't responding to the signals from my brain. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


So, I sell quite a bit of stuff - fishing stuff - on Ebay. I've sold bamboo rods, and Peerless reels. I sold a Renzetti Master vise, and God only knows how many graphite sticks. I'm selling something now as a matter of fact, an Orvis CFO for anyone interested. If I want something new or get a little bored with a particular set-up, then it's off to the great piscatorial auction in the sky.

There's always someone out there who is looking for exactly the item that I am offering. As a seller, I do especially well when there's at least two people out there who are looking for exactly the item that I am offering, but I guess that kind of goes without saying. As much fun as selling on the Bay can be, it isn't the point of today's diatribe. Today, we talk about buying.

Buying fishing gear on Ebay can be almost as much fun as going to a fly shop with $100.00 burning a hole in your pocket.  I suppose there's a certain element of danger involved. One cannot be sure of the condition of an item one intends to purchase, and buyers never get to meet sellers. Transactions are nebulous and anonymous. I suppose it's a strange, and uniquely 21st Century way to do business. Ebay requires faith in the inherent goodness of the fly fishing public.

I'm happy to report that I've had nothing but good experiences. I've finagled excellent deals on fly lines and tying materials, hooks and discontinued spare spools. Believe me when I tell you that if a buyer knows what to look for, then he or she can find some real gems.  

Consider the Orvis Odyssey. This discontinued reel is arguably the best the Orvis company has ever offered. The drag is comparable to that of an Abel, but the mechanics are simpler and better designed (yes, I own both reels). The machining is top notch right down to the recessed counterweight on the spool, which is a simple yet elegant piece of engineering. 

Two things killed the Odyssey, and are to blame for its relatively short tenure. First was the near $400.00 price tag. By today's standards this is par for the course, but ten or twelve years ago most people weren't necessarily willing to pay quite so much - even if the reel was made in America (as was the Odyssey). Second, large arbor reels were just coming into vogue at the time of the Odyssey's release, and anglers were reluctant to throw down for a standard arbor reel, regardless of its exceptional quality.

Now we're left only with the Odysseys that find themselves on Ebay (aside from those that pop up at the bi-annual Lang's tackle auction). One can usually find a reel or two for a very agreeable price. Actually, there's one for sale now although the owner seems to know the value of the reel. Not long ago I picked up an Odyssey IV (the largest of the family; a spey or tarpon sized model). The reel was new, and had never been mounted on a rod let alone taken to the water. After five days of furious bidding, I paid just $76.01 for a reel that - if offered in a flyshop today - would likely have cost five or six hundred dollars.    

Scouring Ebay for tying material may also be productive at times. On three or four occasions I've found lots of vintage materials that appeared valueless at first glance, but after a careful examination revealed a bounty of polar bear hair or speckled bustard feathers. They're out there. You just have to be willing to look. Need some thread? How about Flashabou? Jungle cock? Whatever you might need it's likely all there. Some sales are better than others and one might not realize much of a discount, but most everything will ship for free and you certainly won't pay state sales tax.

One of the tricks is to deliberately misspell the name of an item. For example, rather than using the search string "Abel reel" try "Able reel." All it takes is for one illiterate or typing impaired seller to list an item, and the average bug chucker might just find the deal of a lifetime. Take this current auction for example. The seller is trying to move an Orvis CFO I disc drag reel. The reel is an older model, preferred by fisherman and collectors to the current incarnation. The seller has listed the reel, however, as a CF0 (that's zero) rather than a CFO (as in Oh my God ... I've screwed up my listing).

Sadly, I'm yet to see anyone misspell Bogdan or Payne.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Favorite Flies Volume Three: Brill's Bugs

Today, we have a submission from Shawn Brillon - fly fishing and fly tying product developer for the Orvis company. I've been after Shawn for awhile now to help me dress up the blog. What he gives us this week is a selection of three of his standard hendrickson patterns (hard to believe spring is right around the corner). Shawn ties a fine fly, and lately he's been doing a terrific job of photographing his work. As you'll see, he likes to work with stripped, dyed peacock herl. He's also a fan of the Gamakatsu Retainer Bend hook, which I can only say good things about and recommend to anyone who might want to try going barbless. Thank you Shawn. Well done.

½ Emerger ½ Dun

Hook: Shrimp/Caddis 10, 12
Thread: Maroon or black 8/0 or 6/0
Tail/Shuck: 3 wood duck fibers and brown Anton or Z-lon shuck.
Abdomen: Pheasant tail fibers counter wrapped with copper wire.
Wing post: Turkey flats med/dark dun or poly yarn, Snowshoe Rabbit foot, CDC
Hackle: Med dun, rusty dun, honey dun
Thorax: Hendrickson pink dry fly dubbing

Red Quill Parachute

Hook: Dry fly 12(female) or 14(male)
Thread: Maroon or black 6/0 or 8/0
Tail: Hackle fibers med dun, speckled Coq De Leon, Micro Fibetts (AKA Mayfly Tails)
Abdomen: Stripped dyed-orange peacock herl, or Turkey biots dyed rusty brown/mahogany
female use Hendrickson pink dubbing or Turkey biot.
Wing post: Turkey flats med/dark dun or poly yarn, Snowshoe Rabbit foot, CDC
Hackle: Med dun, rusty dun, honey dun
Thorax: Rusty dry fly dubbing for male, Hendrickson pink for female


The Rusty Spinner

Hook: Dry fly 12(female) or 14(male)
Thread: Maroon or black 6/0 or 8/0
Tail: Hackle fibers med dun, speckled Coq De Leon, Micro Fibetts (AKA Mayfly Tails)
Abdomen: Stripped dyed orange peacock herl, or Turkey biots dyed rusty brown/mahogany
female use Hendrickson pink dubbing or Turkey biot.
Spent Wings: Med dun or cream hackle, poly yarn, DNA frosty fish fibers(white or shrimp)
Thorax: Rusty dry fly dubbing

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lessons in Humility

I've a good friend who proclaims to be an atheist, but he'll also be the first one to tell you that karma is a real force at work in the world. He'd say we all have a karmic debt, and that the great karmic wheel is always spinning. Sometimes we sit back, and enjoy the ride. Other times, karma ejects us from the loop, and we fly off screaming into a miserable void. Yesterday, I was screaming into the void.

Some days bug chuckers can do no wrong; the boys and I were fortunate to have had such a day about two weeks ago. The memory has faded a little around the edges, but I couldn't possibly forget the totality of the river gods' generosity. We hooked fish, so many - in fact - that by day's end our arms were sore from the strain, and our faces were tired of smiling. It was one of those days that - for years on end - fly flingers speak of in hushed tones so as not to wake from the dream.

"Remember the steelhead trip we took back in 2011?"

Notice the definite modifier. It was not merely a steelhead trip; it was the steelhead trip. There will likely be dozens of such trips before the year is out, but that trip was the one.

"Remember it? How could I forget? Epic ..."

And so the karmic wheel turns. We had our trip, but there remained a debt to be paid. That debt - at least in part - was paid in sweat and disappointment.

Just like anywhere else, catching steelhead on the Salmon River can be very difficult during the winter. Sure, one can fish the upper river in the designated fly fishing zone. With hundreds of fish stacking up in every pool, the fishing there is almost easy, but fishing the upper river means an angler must be willing to share a half-mile long stretch of water with no fewer than thirty to seventy-five other anglers. This might not be too bad if most of these folks hadn't skipped the chapter on etiquette in The Curtis Creek Manifesto, but the sad fact is that many of them did skip those pages as well as the chapter about obeying the law and following regulations.

Consequently, we usually opt for fishing the middle river, even though to do so means fewer fish, if any at all. As we often do, we fished a spot that does not necessarily lend itself to wintertime fishing. The parking area and trail aren't maintained this time of year, and very few anglers are willing to walk the great distances through the snow that are necessary to access the water. We made the walk, and did so pulling a sled loaded with gear and enough firewood and food to last a day.

When I was a younger man, such an effort wouldn't have been a bother. I would have danced across the snow like Jesus Christ strolling across the Sea of Galilee, but I'm not such a young man anymore. I'm not an athlete anymore. I'm not a soldier anymore. I'm a soft, morbidly obese English teacher who hasn't the time to fart let alone exercise, and yesterday there was two feet of fresh snow on top of the on the already substantial, lake-effect ice pack. At times I was pushing through drifts that were as high as my waist. When we finally made the river bank, my breathing was ragged and my fleece was soaked with sweat. It was six in the morning.

The day did not improve. Even though local meteorologists had predicted a warm up on Sunday, the air remained bitterly cold throughout most of the day. Couple that with very low, very clear water, and the fish were predictably lock jawed. In six hours of fishing neither of us had a pull, nor did we experience anything even remotely resembling a pull. By noon we managed to convince ourselves to pack up camp and try another spot. On the Salmon River, this is generally a bad idea as the fish can turn without reason or warning. One minute a run might seem devoid of any life whatsoever, and in the next moment, everyone is hooked-up to a ten pound chromer. I know this, but in a momentary lapse of reason I opted for the move.

Remember that packing up camp meant dragging a gear laden sled back to the truck. You might be tempted to suggest that on the way out I was able to follow my own trail, and that the walk was much easier as a result. I suppose this may have been true had the trail out not run uphill. On the way in we were pushing through snow, but we were walking downhill. In simplest terms, the way out was suffering boiled down and reduced to its essence. Half way up the steepest part of the hill, I was cursing my own birth.
I won't bore you with the remainder of our tale. Suffice to say that our position did not improve. The river battered our bodies, and reminded us of its power to disappoint. We were humbled. We were humiliated. And so it goes.

The wheel turns. Most days it is all we can do just to keep hold. My only consolation is that as the wheel turns, I can rest easy knowing that I've made a down-payment on my debt. I may still owe a little bit more, but today I'm just that much closer to having once again paid my dues.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I think this is going to be the year. This is the year I shake loose my cold water shackles, and lose my nearly singular salmonidic vision of bug chucking. Last summer I purchased a pontoon boat and trolling motor, and was much more mobile than I have been in past seasons. I think this new found mobility will be the key. Come spring I'll be able to get into those backwater bays and coves just as the ice disappears. I'm sure the fish will be there. Twenty, thirty, and - if I'm lucky - forty inch snaggle-toothed monsters will be stacked like cord wood, and waiting to get their collective groove on.

The thought of the spring spawning ritual excites me nearly as much as it does the pike. It's that one time of year when the least difficult aspect of pike fishing is finding the fish. As the year progresses, Esox Lucius become increasingly solitary and difficult to locate.  I suppose this - along with the animal's potential to grow to prodigious dimensions - is the real allure of the species. Pike are special because like any apex predator, pike are relatively rare. Unless you're there shortly after ice out, armed with an eight or nine weight rod and some seriously stout wire, you might as well stay home and launder doilies.

At least that's how I remember my previous pike fishing exploits.

Years upon years have passed since I last devoted time strictly to the pursuit of early season pike. For the life of me, I don't know why I ever stopped the chase. I suppose meeting my wife might have had something to do with it. More likely, brown trout and an increasingly prolific hendrickson hatch were my motivations. Sure, if I'm out chasing carp or bass then I'm happy to hook up with a toothier critter, but hooking water wolves hasn't been my intent in a long time. It's a problem I hope to rectify.

This winter, in addition to the usual army of trout, steelhead, bass, and carp flies, I'm wrapping some bigger stuff intended solely for bigger fish. Much of my inspiration comes from the fellas at A Matter of Life, Death, and Fluffchucking, Pike Fly-Fishing Articles, Pike Adventures with Ken Capsey, and Drew Price Fly Fishing. The boys who maintain these blogs seem to have figured out the challenge of flinging flies for pike, and consistently catching fish throughout the season.

I guess that means that over the next few weeks my vise will see quite a lot of craft fur, Flashabou, and deer hair. The scrap ends of zonker strips - destined for the dubbing blender - will litter the floor. Krystal Flash and Angel Hair will cling to my flannel shirts; epoxy and super glue will flow. Of course, I'll have to dig out those 6/0 Daiichis that are buried at the back of the hook bin, and I'm almost certain I have some rattles somewhere. I think I saw them stuffed in alongside my collection of dyed polar bear; although, I can't imagine why I would have tossed them in that drawer.


This is going to be the year. With any luck I'll get a few hero shots. Hero shots in which I'm not the hero - not becasue I didn't catch the fish, but because the critter's grin is bigger and nastier than my own.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowling

Thank you God, and thank you baby Jesus. It's here. It's finally here. The big one. The alpha and omega. The Super Bowl.

How do I love the game? Let me count the ways ...

Hit em' hard enough to knock him back into his mother's womb

Underdogs. I'm not a Giants fan. Nevertheless, it was a thrill when they beat the snot out of New England. Tom who? Brady what?

Let's give it up for leg warmers.

Superbowl parties attended by body-painted, Miami based strippers. Awesome ... just awesome.

Quick! Someone run over to Sesame Street and grab the Count. We need some help here.

Jewelry. The Superbowl is an excuse for men - albeit a select few - to wear some really gaudy baubles.

No really. It was an accident. I swear it was. I have no interest in seeing your boob, Janet Jackson.
Wardrobe malfunctions. This is the sort of thing that happens when we try to combine a half suit of Samurai armor with cheesy pop music. Happens every time.

Would you look at that ... they're double teaming the tight end. Don't see that everyday.

Pay-per-view spin offs. Nuff said ...

Wish I was back there ...

The very best part of Super Bowl Sunday is that many of the bug chuckers stay home, who would otherwise be wading the runs of the river. Anyone fishing today is likely to have little trouble finding a spot to himself. An inch of ice and a grumbling wife conspired to keep me from making the trip.

In the words of many a Giants fan, "There's always next year."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Rubber Meets the Road

The Midwestern United States is an interesting place. Folks there are different than they are here in the Northeast. By and large, Midwesterners are more quiet, thoughtful, and reserved. They share a dry, sardonic sense of humor. Midwesterners are a very pragmatic people. Throw a New Yorker in the mix, and he or she is invariably the extrovert in the group.

This isn't necessarily the case, however, when it comes to tying flies. Midwestern bug chuckers love local patterns, and the local tyers like to mix things up. Look in the fly bins in any midwestern fly shop, and you'll likely see what I mean. This is especially true if the shop caters to Great Lakes steelheaders.

In every tray you'll find an abundance of rubber legs. They'll be everywhere, on every fly. You'll find Pheasant Tails with legs; Hare's Ears with legs. Stoneflies, caddis pupa, eggs, dries, and streamers ... all with rubber legs. All that squigglishousness can be a little overwhelming for a boy who was born and raised in the Northeast, and self-trained in the Catskill tradition. And while the experience may be a little overwhelming, that isn't to say that it isn't a valuable experience nonetheless. Mixing it up is a good thing.

This season we've been playing with these things ...

I suppose they're intended for bass bugs and the like, but they've been absolutely deadly mixed in with the usual the egg and nymph patterns. 

Squiggly goodness.